Jim Bishop | Comforting Contemplations on the Cusp of Christmas
Celebrating the Christmas-New Year’s season seems different these days. Wife Anna and I spend most of it right here in the ‘Burg, home for some 38 years now. Among the highlights: seeing the anticipation reflected in the eyes of our grandkids as the Big Day looms.
I put up fewer outside decorations these days at the Bishop ranch – just one more thing to take down again – but a tangible reminder of Christmases of yore now resides in our living room – a manger scene with ceramic figures, a few chipped, with an electric bulb illuminating the Bethlehem stable. My parents acquired it early in their marriage during World War II. I sit and look at it often, this emblem of the real reason for the season and of the close-knit, extended family I’m privileged to be part of.
‘Tis but a wishful thought, but how wonderful it would be just once more to return to the little house on Danboro hill, gather at the top of the stairs at daybreak, pause on the landing for a group picture (I have several of these in a photo album) before hitting the living room floor to survey exquisitely-wrapped gifts under a live Christmas tree (bedecked with those 7 1/2 watt bulbs on strings of lights that stayed lit forever and an illuminated star at the top that now graces Der Tannenbaum at my brother Eric’s tree in Souderton, Pa.).
The J. Vernon and Ann Bishop family of seven wasn’t wealthy, but we were rich in so many other ways. My parents were good managers, and growing up, we didn’t spend money we didn’t have on lavish gifts on each other. It was a model that Anna and I attempted to replicate in our own family, not always successfully, but we tried.
The players are different these days. Both our fathers are gone, we’re aging, hopefully wiser, more geographically scattered, yet, I am gladdened by the fact that the joy, excitement and expectancy of Christmas remains, despite the many trials, economic and otherwise, that life dishes out.
While so much has changed over the years, for this kid the period between December 1 and 25 has to include:
* Watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with Chevy Chase and the Griswold family; “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (I remember seeing this Charles Schulz’ masterpiece the first time it aired in 1965 on a 14″ black and white TV set in my college dorm room); Will Vinton’s “Claymation Christmas” (glad I have it on video; one of the best Christmas TV specials ever doesn’t return anymore for some reason); and Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story.” I never pined for a Red Ryder BB gun, but pestered my parents endlessly for a “Remco Transistor Radio and Broadcasting System” (which I finally got despite my insufferable ways, and then needed help to assemble).
* Planting an amaryllis bulb early in the month and after several weeks, watching it shoot up before our eyes to flaunt its colorful blooms in the long, drab month of January.
* Sending a family Christmas letter and photo greeting to friends and relatives that we don’t see from one year to the next. This practice started in 1969; each year I tell myself, we can’t afford to do it anymore, then turn around and send ’em out at 42 cents a clip. The fringe benefit: a yearly documentation of our family’s growth and activities and a handy reference to go back and remember the way we were.
* Posting photo greeting cards as they arrive from relatives and friends on the refrigerator, where they reside for most of the new year
The question comes round, musically and in other venues: why can’t every day be like Christmas? I believe it can, but not through thinking sentimental thoughts or giving material things, often items not even needed, to loved ones.
Christmas can be a daily experience if we seek to follow the example not of the baby in the manger but the full-grown, incarnate Son of God who wants to live in our hearts and calls us to be his hands and feet to carry out his work in this wearisome world.
O Come, O Come, Immanuel . . .? The good news of Christmas is: God has already given us the gift of his immeasurable love and is just waiting for us to unwrap, enjoy and share it every day of the year.
Peace be unto you and your house this day and in the brave new year, 2009.
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There’s a song in the air: The holiday music just keeps on comin’ as host Jim (the Grinning Grinch) Bishop digs deep into his song bag of musical memories and “A Christmas Potpourri” over the Central Shenandoah Valley, 6 p.m. Christmas Eve on newsradio 550, WSVA. Also, catch a repeat broadcast of “”A 50’s Christmas” on the “Friday Night Jukebox,” 8 p.m. Dec. 26 on 91.7 FM, WEMC (www.wemcradio.org).
You gotta glow now: Follow the vehicles out Rt. 33 west to the Belmont Estates subdivision and enjoy the development-wide luminary display at nightfall Sunday, Dec. 21, weather permitting.
– Column by Jim Bishop